Roman soccer Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Roman culture

It is the game I like the most. It is very intense exercise and you get very tireds by dribbling and turning the neck back violently. So Antiphanes says: “damn, what neck pain!” And commenting the match he said: “He took the ball and passed it to aplayer while dodging another playing laughing. He put it (the ball) out of reach of a third player. Another raised it again. While the crowd resounded with shouts of ” Too far!, beside!, on his head! Put it down! Raise it!, Too short!” (Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae I).

If we listened to these words nowadays it would seem us listening to the broadcast of a socce, rugby or football match. But it is not.  This is a game played for two thousand years in Greek and Roman cities. A harpastum match. Harpastum was played in the Roman Empire.

Between five and twelve players participated in each match and they played on a rectangular field divided by a central line. Each team had to keep the ball in its field while the other team tried to steal it. One could only block the player carrying the ball.  Tactics and passes were developed to achieve their goal.

Galen, the Roman physician, said that harpastum was better than jogging because it exercises all parts of the body, takes little time and it’s free! Also considered it very useful for practicing strategy.


When Greeks and Romans fought in wars and battles the main thing was to keep a solid line. With shields, helmets and protections was difficult to cause damage while everyone kept his position. With the shield each player defended the fellow who was in his left side. Furthermore the aim was to break the line of the enemy. But how to train without gettin hurt?

Looking at games like soccer, football or rugby we can see the relationship. With this sport they could exercise the power and speed and the ability to break the opponent’s formation and all without getting hurt!, Well, or at least having not too much damage.

At least in this aspect of life there was no discrimination. In some Roman mosaics we can see women training with weights and playing ball. In contrast to the reticence of many people in the twentieth century when women began to play football and even today. It’s unbelievable! 🙂


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